Under the Hammer – Recap of the 2018 December Watch Auctions

With Christmas just around the corner, the season of capricious spending is upon us. A run of three top-quality auctions this month has given me a lot to chew through. Occurring in Hong Kong, New York, and London, held by Heritage Auctions, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s respectively, all three auctions served to consolidate some widely held conceptions of the most valuable brands and models on the resale market. So let’s dig in to the some results from December’s watch auctions.

December watch auctions

Heritage Auctions – Hong Kong Signature Auction

The most recent auction to take place was the Hong Kong Signature Auction of December 10th. The top selling piece was, somewhat unsurprisingly, an exceptionally rare 14k gold reference 6241 ‘Paul Newman’ Rolex Daytona Cosmograph ‘John Player Special’, one of the most unique pieces from all of the December watch auctions.

Aside from the fact this watch ticks all the boxes for collectible Rolexes, being an eminent entry in the history of the Paul Newman enclave that causes collectors to salivate on sight, it is also a very attractive gold timepiece. Gold watches always have a high collectability value because of the intrinsic and relatively reliable value of the case material, but it’s not so uncommon for them to appear gaudy and meretricious to more modern eyes. This piece, however, despite being a fully gold case and bracelet sporting a black dial with golden-hued sub-dials, somehow manages to come off understated.

It sold for $804,500 including the buyer’s premium, which is, although a huge amount, not so surprising given the condition and rarity of the piece.

Slightly further down the order, another Rolex Daytona made it into the top ten sale prices, with the hammer coming down at $225,000 (incl. buyer’s premium) for a reference 6239 Paul Newman in steel from 1969 – a handsome piece that, at today’s prices, could be considered a bit of a steal.

My personal favorite piece from the top ten, however, was a gloriously understated Patek Philippe reference 2526P with an enameled dial signed for Tiffany & co. I go crazy for dials marked with the names of retailers and pine for more of these collaborations in modern watchmaking. It’s a cool streak of individuality and broadens its appeal due to the fact it taps in to fans of the store, as well as the brand and the craft. At $642,500, it’s hardly cheap, but it’s importance in the history of both marques upon the dial is unquestionable.

December watch auctions

Christie’s – An Evening of Exceptional Watches – December 6th

December 6th in London saw Christie’s hold ‘An Evening of Exceptional Watches’. The listings lived up to the billing with many interesting pieces for sale.

My personal favorite was lot #152, a Rolex Dato-Compax Oyster triple calendar chronograph. Normally my favorite Rolexes, and the ones I would rush to invest in, are the plainer, sportier models that I think tend to age better. This piece, however, despite its complication, is a beautifully clear dial, able to display a lot of information without cluttering proceedings. The pale color scheme is unobtrusive, and the square markers curious enough to add a dash of visual interest to the dial. It landed within its estimate of 200-400K estimated, realizing $250,000, and I get the feeling it will outperform that significantly next time it goes under the hammer, hopefully we wont have to wait for next year’s December auctions.


December watch auctions


Over in NYC, Sotheby’s held the ‘Important Watches’ auction on December 5th. Another Paul Newman hit the top three, coming in at $237,500, slightly over its $200,000 estimate. As ‘reasonable’ as that seems for a watch of such heritage, it was offered on a leather strap rather than the bracelet.

For me, however, the best piece to go under the hammer was the Lange & Söhne Tourbograph ‘Pour le Merite’ Reference 702025F. The name alone is probably worth six figures, and the watch itself sold for $300,000, bang on its top estimate.

Lange & Söhne create superb timepieces, which I personally prefer to Patek Philippe from a horological and aesthetic perspective. They are not so collectible due to the legend of Patek and their continuous existence throughout so much of modern history, but as I always say, quality is undeniable, and these watches from this storied German brand never fail to impress me on that front.

About the Author:

Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.